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Long-haul COVID-19 impacts nearly a quarter of people who contract the disease, a new analysis of 2 million patients suggests.
Persistent symptoms, including pain, breathing difficulties, and fatigue may last up to nine months after the initial illness.
Half of patients who were severely ill and 19% of people with asymptomatic infections developed post-COVID conditions.
Millions of Americans have recovered from COVID-19 since last March, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But an untold number of those patients are still feeling the effects of the novel coronavirus weeks or months after first becoming ill, often known as post-COVID syndrome.
Now, new research is offering the first large-scale insights into the long-term side effects of the virus. In an analysis of 2 million COVID-19 patients, the largest of its kind so far, the nonprofit organization FAIR Health revealed that 23.2% of patients—more than 450,000 people—who had contracted the coronavirus sought treatment for at least one “post-COVID condition” a month or more after their diagnosis.
The most frequently reported symptoms across all ages were pain, breathing difficulties, hyperlipidemia (fatty blood), malaise and fatigue, and hypertension. Other common symptoms of long COVID include headaches, heart palpitations, lingering loss of smell or taste, brain fog, and depression or anxiety, according to the CDC.
Although long-haul symptoms were most likely to occur in those who had experienced severe illness, all types of people were affected. Half of hospitalized patients, 27.5% of symptomatic patients, and 19% of asymptomatic patients reported experiencing long COVID symptoms to their healthcare providers, meaning that even those without a noticeable illness early on can feel side effects later.
Experts have been aware of the still-mysterious condition since last spring, but until this report, there had been no large-scale analysis of just how many people could be affected. Symptoms have been reported as long as nine months after initial diagnosis.
“Many of my post-COVID patients say their primary care doctors dismissed and disregarded their symptoms, which compounds their suffering,” Laurie Jacobs, M.D., an internist at the COVID Recovery Center at Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, previously told Prevention. “That doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
The majority of post-COVID conditions were most common in women, per the FAIR Health report—only a handful, like high blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and blood clotting, were more likely in men. Most long-haul patients are young and middle-age adults, with relatively few cases among those under 19 and over 59. But again, anyone can experience these conditions.
“If you think you have a post-COVID condition, talk to your healthcare provider about options for managing or treating your symptoms and resources for support,” the CDC explains. “The best way to prevent these long-term complications is to prevent COVID-19.”
So, consider this another reason to get your vaccine if you haven’t yet lined up for your dose.
Find the care you need: If you or a loved one develops post-COVID symptoms, use this map produced by Survivor Corps, a grassroots coalition of COVID-19 survivors, to find a specialized treatment facility near you. If you don’t have one nearby, check with local universities and hospitals because new ones are opening every month.
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